Inherited Joy

Inherited Joy

For as long as I can remember, I have heard how special it is that I share a middle name with my mother. While I have always felt it to be true, it was only recently that I have embraced the particular significance of sharing our name “Joy." I have realized that in the passing along of the name, my mother also imparted the tools in which to access joy, and that is through play. One of my earliest joys was playing with my mom - running, jumping, laughing, dancing, exploring nature - she never held back with me when it came to having fun and playing hard.

Joy is the feeling of freedom I experience when I reconnect with my more child-like self.

Now, in the juggling of adult responsibilities and everyday stressors, along with overwhelming media stories of the pain and suffering of others in this world, it has become increasingly important to feel connected to that deep, inner child-like joy.  While it’s tempting to chase the most exhilarating, joyous heights, I recognize that finding joy in the mundane is what brings me buoyancy; shielding me against all the things that can mar my fullest perspective on life.

Joy is the feeling of freedom I experience when I reconnect with my more child-like self, often times through play, but sometimes even just in the reminder of things that I loved as a child. These moments are available to me as long as I create the space in my day for them. A great example, and a peek into my silly world, is how I stop to say hello to the squirrels on my daily, on-foot commute around town. I’m well aware this may sound a bit kooky, but I find great joy in connecting with one of my favorite animals and reminding myself of the fun I had chasing and playing with the squirrels in the trees that surrounded my childhood home.  

What’s in a name? So much more than I had recognized before.


Lauren Joy Furutani, MA, LMFT, helps individuals and families of all ethnic and faith backgrounds maneuver through the unexpected turns in life.

Kids Get Real About Joy

Kids Get Real About Joy

 Self-portrait, Rosie, Age 4

Self-portrait, Rosie, Age 4

Snippets from the interview:

Q: When You think of Joy, What's the First Thing that Pops in Your Head?

A: Joyful music and dancing. Those are the things....

 

Q: What does joy look like?

A: Beautiful blue sky. Beautiful with jewels in it.

 

Q: What happens in your body when you feel joy?

A: It wiggles around. 

 

Q: If joy were a color, what WOULD it be?

A: It would be whole rainbow.

 

Q: What’s the opposite of joy?

A: Um…I don’t know.


 Self-portrait, Lucy, Age 5 1/2

Self-portrait, Lucy, Age 5 1/2

Snippets from the interview:

Q: When you think of joy, what's the first thing that pops into your head?

A: Rainbow. 

 

Q: What does joy look like?

A: Love.

 

Q: If joy were a color, what Would it Be?

A: Seagreen.

 

In Love and In Good Humor

In Love and In Good Humor

It wasn’t until the 1680s that the word humor began to refer to something amusing or comic. I learned of this by venturing down an Internet rabbit hole

When we say that we’re looking for a love interest with a sense of humor, I think we’re wondering: Can this person roll with the punches of life? Can they respect their own eccentricities and will they accept and love my eccentricities?

When I realized that humor was the theme marking the conclusion of our Humans of MHT interview series, I was delighted by the linguistic serendipity - humor and humanness. I assumed that the two words were etymologically linked. However, when I did a cursory Google search, I found evidence to the contrary. Humor comes from the Latin words “humere” (to be moist) and “humor” (liquid, moistness). Human, on the other hand, is borrowed from the Latin words “homo” (man, human) and “humanus” (of or belonging to man, human, humane). 

No close historical relation after all. 

But it didn’t matter. I was newly delighted by dangling carrots — and it was all about humor as a word for state of mind or mood, not as a reference to something funny. I had stumbled upon an article about humorism - a system of medicine, adopted by ancient Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers, that attributes particular mental states to an excess or deficiency of four distinct bodily fluids in a person, known as humors. In this system, both mental and physical health are dependent on a balance of four primary humors: bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood, and therefore, a person could have a melancholic, bilious, phlegmatic or sanguine temperament. My initial thought was: Huh — there’s something very apropos about this connection because any comedian worth their salt has a zinger about our most embarrassing human secretions.

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As I dug deeper, I read that language evolved from speaking of temperament (He’s in ill-humor/She’s in good humor) to “humoring” someone’s mood or whim, and then finally referring to something that could alter someone’s mood by making them laugh. In the 17th century, humor then became synonymous with “imbalance" and "eccentricity of character.” I had an aha moment -- that was the key between humor and humanness! No need for these threads to be linked by the same root word. They were already inextricably tied together in my understanding of a lasting partnership, but I didn't have the turn of phrase to more fully articulate it until my eyes landed on eccentricity of character. What clicked was....When I think about someone’s humanness, I reflect on their particularities, foibles, oddities, or difference. The prickly bits and the rough edges are the most human. In relationship, it is the ability to negotiate eccentricities rather than strive for sameness or perfect complementarity that I believe provides sturdiness to weather the storms of life together.

According to eHarmony, “Almost every person has ‘sense of humor’ high on the list of things they want in a partner.” That rings emotionally true — that’s certainly what my people in my personal life value in their significant others. And it’s something that I cherish in my partner. This conviction was also declared in Lauren Ziel's interview with comedy producer Andi Porter, in which Porter stated “I would have a sack of potatoes as a partner as long as they had a great sense of humor.”  When we say that we’re looking for a love interest with a sense of humor, I think we’re wondering: Can this person roll with the punches of life? Can they respect their own eccentricities and will they accept and love my eccentricities? And for me, specifically, can they humor my searching for things equally inane and profound online? 


Taz MorganMA, is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples. 

Belly Laughs & Blazing Saddles: An Interview with Andi Porter, Comedy Producer

Belly Laughs & Blazing Saddles: An Interview with Andi Porter, Comedy Producer

Andi Humor

Lauren Ziel: When did you first know what funny/comedy/humor was and that you had a knack for it?

Andi Porter: My family always thought I was funny. Everyone in my family is hilarious and I just thought every family nucleus was like that until I'd go to my friends' homes and realize how boring and solemn their family dinners were. Why wasn't anyone else trying to burp as loud as they can to get everyone to belly laugh or quoting Mel Brooks movies to get someone to shoot milk out of their nose? Turns out the Mel Brooks quotes didn't go over well in the 2nd grade cafeteria. Apparently not everyone's parents let them watch Blazing Saddles at 7. Losers.

When I was little I was incredibly shy and introverted around others. That was until we moved into the city and I changed schools in the 7th grade. It was an opportunity to be myself and just get weird with it. So I did! It seemed to work out and my friends and their friends thought I was funny. I realized that was my open door into being the wildly extroverted person I am now and I sprinted through that door and never looked back. 

As one of our therapists Monica Green writes in a recent MHT blog post: "[Humor's] fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with.” How has humor served you at getting at your greater truth?

Humor has allowed me to talk about the way I feel and view the world in a way that's unique to my voice and perspective without it seeming like I'm an informed professional who's psychoanalyzing things. Being raised Catholic taught me to not be an emotional person, so I rarely cry or like to talk about anything serious, but humor allows me to talk about those topics more willingly and freely with my own voice that I ever would have before. And the best part is it's MY voice. It took me a long time to find it, and I realize a lot of people never find theirs so I'm lucky to have it. 

Humor has allowed me to talk about the way I feel and view the world in a way that’s unique to my voice and perspective.

How/or do you use humor to cope with hardships in your life?

It's the only way I know how to cope. If someone is upset or sad my gut reaction is to walk funny, do a dance, use a silly voice, burp, fart, do anything to lift the heavy weight in the room. My entire family is this way. For example: about 3 years ago when my grandpa was admitted to the ER in the middle of the night, the hospital called the family to let us know it was the end and we needed to get down there. For hours my extended family was sitting in the waiting room, about a dozen of us, telling the funniest stories we could think of about our grandpa. We were all taking turns saying our goodbyes, and laughing our asses off at the same time. One other person was in the waiting room and came up to us and said, "I wish my family was like this. You're all having such a good time while getting through a tough time." And that really stuck with me. I felt so lucky to have a family that copes this way, and I can't wait to pass it on to my kids who I WILL be watching Blazing Saddles with as soon as they're old enough. So like, 8 years old. 

What's your favorite bad/dad joke?

What do you call a fish with no eyes? 

Fshhhhh.

How is humor helpful for mental health? (This can be personal or a view of how you see it as useful for mental health in general.) 

For myself, it's so important to laugh and get that serotonin going in my brain. I struggle with anxiety and depression and I refuse to be on prescribed medication. It makes me feel wonky. If I didn't have comedy as a regular part of my routine, I'd be on so much Xanax -- it'd be a mainline situation. I'd probably be trying to smoke it. Working in the world of comedy and having similar types of people around me has helped my mental health in the biggest way possible. 

Comedy can also be viewed as a mental health problem of it's own. There's something to be said about a person who will do ANYTHING for a laugh, and I'm definitely one of those people. It's not about the self-gratification, it's about making everyone in the room happier, which can be a good thing and a bad thing, and sometimes both simultaneously. 

Would you rather have a partner who is super hot, really nice and attentive, great in bed, and majorly successful OR one who has the perfect sense of humor?

I would have a sack of potatoes as a partner as long as they had a great sense of humor. That's my only qualification in a partner. Which is probably why I've dated a loooot of men without jobs and cars. But wouldn't it be nice to have all of the above?!

 

Andi Porter is a producer and actress, known for The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale (2018), The Soup (2004) and Dish Nation (2011).


Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.

The Laugh Machine

The Laugh Machine

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human.

I remember my mother telling me a story about her younger sister growing up. Her sister was tying various strings to an old bottle and attaching a bunch of different objects to the other end of each string. When asked what she was doing, she explained that she was making a laugh machine. While the family was at first incredulous, simply watching her twirl her odd contraption had them all in stitches in the end. Why? It was so ridiculous! There was an irony in the fact that her prediction came true from those unlikely beginnings. My mother was still giggling 50-some years later.

What makes humor such an important part of our humanity? Fundamentally, all humor centers around truth. In slapstick, we highlight the ridiculous aspects of daily life. In a roast, we exaggerate selected features of a person to create a comic caricature. Wit often shows us a wry perspective on a situation. Sarcasm presents a critical truth mercilessly, Gallows humor transcends what is most grim in our human experience to point out irony or the absurd. Freudian humor, as Taz reminds us, carries the truth of our unconscious desires.

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human. Its playfulness pulls on a younger part of us. And isn’t it always children that overcome divisions that adults can’t seem to get around, simply by not seeing them in the first place? When we laugh together, we’re in touch with a part of us that can meet others in a place of youthful glee.

Personally, I love the way my kindergarten-age daughter laughs uproariously and uncontrollably when I crack a string of jokes about the inescapable truths of our digestive tracts. She can’t stop. She’s utterly helpless in the waves of laughter shaking her small body. Part of her will never outgrow her love of earthy humor. When she’s 16, perhaps we’ll find it awkward and difficult to connect in the tried and true fashion of adolescence. I’m sure I’ll be googling fart jokes and letting them rip.


Monica Green, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, PSY27391, specializing in depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues and psychological aspects of chronic health conditions. She enjoys terrible puns. 

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Abby Wambaugh

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Abby Wambaugh

Maria Elena: Hey Abby—how are you?

Abby: I’m good, how are you?

ME: I’m good. So, I’m interviewing you today….what does humanness mean to you?

Abby: I’ve been thinking about this in anticipation of our talk today, and after hearing what everyone else has said…I just really want to think about what does humanness mean to me specifically. And as I was thinking about it, I saw that it has two meanings for me. One is that it’s a reminder of my own work with perfectionism and that I am a human…with flaws, with things that I’m working on, and with things that I want to do differently. In some ways, it allows me to have self-compassion - to remember my own humanness and come into contact with it. And I was also thinking part of humanness is resiliency for me…that we as humans are capable of handling much more than we think we can. There’s something really beautiful about the fact that we are both flawed and imperfect…and yet sometimes even stronger than we could imagine. So, I think some combination of this self-compassion and this resiliency is what humanness means to me. 

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ME: Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I feel inspired right now. So, you chose humor to represent your humanness. What does humor mean to you?

Abby: Humor has always been a way to connect with people…and in some ways a way to connect with myself. I remember when I was a kid… at the dinner table….I had this impression that I did of one of my teachers at school and my family use to request that I do the impression. And it would make everybody laugh. So, I have these really rich and vivid childhood memories of humor being a way that I could connect with people that I love and a way that I could let go of some of the stress that would carry throughout the day. And as an adult, it still continued to show up for me. I did a comedy standup set one time, and realized that I like to be more in the audience than the one up front, but it was part of this way of me engaging with humor and engaging with how much it takes a weight off of you. I think sometimes about some of the difficult things we talk about in the therapy room…and sometimes you just have to bring some humor in there. Some of the most amazing parts of sessions for me are the ones where you have these really intense moments and you also get to laugh with your client. And so I think that same type of connection and relief that humor brings is not only important to me as a human but it’s also really important to be as a therapist, and it’s something that I try to utilize a lot in the therapy room.

ME: Wow, have there been any shining moments as a clinician where you use your humor since you already said you use it clinically?

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Abby: One moment that comes to mind for me was with a teenager that I used to work with who was particularly resistant to therapy, as most teenagers are (laughs). Who was really having trouble engaging with the things that she wanted to work on and with even what it meant to her to be in therapy. We started…I don’t even really remember how it started…but we started doing voices together. We would start our sessions with accents. We kinda had our “go-to” accents. Mine, because I’m from Texas originally…I like to do a good Southern accent. Sometimes we would switches into British accents. And we would have different accents that we would do. It was a way of breaking ice and way of us connecting at the beginning of the session to remind her that yes, I was her therapist, but I was also somebody sitting with her…wanting to connect with her and care about her and help make what was not going well for her better and help her find healing. That’s one silly thing that I don’t do all the time, but that definitely comes to mind for me when I think about how I’ve used humor in the past with clients.

ME: Wow, I really enjoy your spin on humor and how it helps facilitate hard conversations or even just helps to bring the human in the room. And say like, “Hey, we can laugh together, cry together, and heal together.”

Abby: What’s tricky about humor…I think I even mentioned this to you…is that it can definitely be a form of avoidance. I think we see that a lot as therapists…that someone will come in contact with a hard part of their story and will deflect with humor. I’ve definitely been guilty of that before, too. It’s one of those ways to care for self and to connect. But I’m also aware there’s a shadow side to humor…where you can use it to try to escape moments of intimacy with people. I try not to use humor in that way and I think It’s helpful to even be aware of that because it’s something that we all do sometimes. 

ME: Yeah, yes. It was really great interviewing you. I feel a little more inspired. I feel a little looser to use humor in the room with clients instead of being so serious…us art therapist are just so serious. Just kidding. (laughs).

Abby: Yes, exactly. (Laughs).

ME: Well, thank you.

Abby: Thank you. 


Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.


Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

A New Taste of Home

A New Taste of Home

chicken korma

For me, food holds memories of being grounded and content. Memories of dishes I’ve shared with people I love, dishes I’ve made for people I love, and lingering together with food and wine. These memories are places I come back to time and time again to feel at home.

When I was 18 years old, I moved away from my family and lived in England for a year working as a nanny. It was there that I remember first solidifying food as a grounding memory. The family I worked for regularly made chicken korma and it became a dish of comfort and calm for me. Something about the strong curry scent, basmati rice, and creamy yellow sauce shared with a family I cared about deeply eased my feelings of homesickness.

In doing some research, I found neuroscience affirms my experience of food as grounding. Eating food engages all of our senses, and senses are deeply tied to memories. Researchers have found that smell is often the strongest sense tied to memory, and if you add on the layers of all other senses experienced when eating food our brains are given multiple cues to recall a memory linked to a meal.

In a study done in 2007 by Johan Willander and Maria Larsson, researchers found that memories triggered by smell were also more emotional than those triggered by verbal information alone. This may be why even today, years after my time in England, I find myself ordering chicken korma when I feel a bit lost and alone, and after a few bites I find myself at home again.

For me, food holds memories of being grounded and content...These memories are places I come back to time and time again to feel at home.

Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.

Yummm....Tasty Musings

Yummm....Tasty Musings

It wasn’t until I arrived at Yale my freshman year that I really realized that Subway was not a “nice” restaurant.

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This memory always makes me smile these days, but really, I think there was something about that surprising “Aha” I had as an 18-year-old that has stayed with me. It captures something of the widely varying perspectives we bring to food, and how those perspectives influence us.

Food is a display of our cultural backgrounds, our socioeconomic status, our values. If you and I share a meal that I love together, and my food signals something different than yours, I think we undergo something sacred, but perhaps quite fragile as well. There is a “getting to know you” going on in those moments. The capacity for both recognition and rejection is high. 

For being the center around which hospitality often orbits, food can be a rather centrifugal force that flings us quite far away from one another. I think the problem is, we can forget to pay attention to just how much is at play when we eat together (or even talk about eating!). The foods we presume to have in common, and our response to that which we don’t have in common, sets the stage for how well we will recognize one another. 

At the same time, what a bond comes from being able to learn we share a favorite dish or restaurant! And how vulnerable and affirming to share a favorite meal of mine with someone who has never tasted it before, knowing they are interested in it because of me. 

What do your favorite food memories say about you?


Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Lauren Ziel: Hi Maria Elena! I am really excited to talk with you today about humanness. I think this is the second to last interview we’re doing with all of our clinicians. And the first question we lead off with in this series is: What does humanness mean to you?

Maria Elena Marquez: Great question. What does humanness mean to me...it's where I feel most grounded, the most connected…to myself. And in this case it means with food and those around me. So, for me humanness is a sense of calmness in myself.

L: You mention food and your connection with food as this space of feeling grounded, feeling connected…it's so interesting because that’s such a primal thing. It's in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – it’s the baseline, you know. And on one hand it's survival but it can also be a way to connect socially and a lot of the activities we have are based around food. I am wondering for you how food is the mechanism to which you find your humanness. So, why is it FOOD for you?

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ME: Food for me is a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to me; and just talking about the ingredients, it takes me to a place; it either takes me to my childhood or to a place in my adulthood maybe where I am going to a new restaurant and trying a new dish and we’re both discovering this new dish together. So, it’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment and both of us are just enjoying this, and talking about it; talking about the ingredients and if anything feels familiar or totally not familiar to you. So, that’s the connection part for me  - the connection with the other person that’s sitting with me or a group of friends and we’re really just connecting and enjoying this present moment with this food and it's doing something, and just connecting to your emotions and your warmth in your body or the coolness when you're eating something like sushi… so that’s a little bit about my process with food.

L: I can see you light up when you talk about it. Like even as you describe it you are completely going into the memory of.  I mean, it radiates off of you! I was also thinking as you were talking it also sounds like a mindful meditation practice - using all of your five senses, being in the moment, if there is someone with you connecting with them in that moment. It just sounds like a really real-world practical way you can be mindful and present. I hadn’t thought about it in the context of food but there a little ‘light bulb’ moment.

So food being an extension of a place of grounding for you, I can totally see how that applies perhaps on a personal level, how does it show up for you in your work as a therapist?

ME: As my work as a therapist, I feel it really helps me be in the moment. When I am with clients I try to calm myself down in the process of looking at all these processes the client is going through. So it reminds me to calm down and go piece by piece, ingredient by ingredient with a client. And also I use it outside of therapy for me - it's my self-care - in actually making an intention to go out with someone or maybe by myself and try new food just to get me in the state of acknowledging what’s in front of me instead of always being in my head and trying to process client work. It’s really a place for me to calm myself down and just enjoy my surroundings, the person serving me, this dish. I feel it helps me to be more grounded and just more mindful of what’s in front of me, whether it’s a client or maybe an amazing dish. 

L: This is a little off the sheet perhaps but I’m really curious what’s a recent meal you had that just blew your mind because it reminded you of something or that it was completely new and exciting? I should have eaten before this…

ME: Well, a dish that took me back, or a restaurant that took me back to my roots, which is Salvadorian and Columbian, was actually a Mexican restaurant here in Highland Park. I was with a colleague and we had plantains and black beans, a nice queso fresco; we had some fresh avocado. And just the way it was plated was so beautiful. To me it was very simple, it was very humble because that’s the type of food I would have in El Salvador so it took me back. It was really nice.

I was eating with this coworker and I was able to go back with her and tell her a little bit about myself and a little bit about my culture. Though I was in a Mexican restaurant, all these ingredients and all the spices and how it was plated was so home-based that it was just a great way to start my day.

[It’s] a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to me...it’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment.
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L: I mean, I was thinking about kind of an analogy - you're in a Mexican restaurant but then there are all these familiar flavors - its almost as if…I mean, sometimes I find myself in front of a client and I don’t share their cultural background, or I don’t have parallel experiences to them, but there is always this sort of ingredient or this flavor of “I see you. I understand”. Anyways, that was a little off the cuff but… its really lovely to hear how food is this one connecting thing; how you bring your culture in your work with clients, how it helps you stay grounded, how it keeps you full so that you are able to be that for the clients that you have. Its just really awesome. I would have never thought ‘food’ but I totally see it now.

ME: Yeah! And that’s why we should make a date and have a group dinner, and we can really enjoy and dive in and be mindful and just engage with a different place within ourselves.

L: Love it. I love it. Well it was lovely to interview you here and I am definitely going to go have food now . But thank you Maria Elena. I appreciate it.

ME: You're welcome. Thank you.


Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.


Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.

What is Now

What is Now

I know I may lose many of you while reading the following but here it goes…this blog post is about running.

 Still with me?  Okay.

While running may not immediately conjure up conventional notions of meditation practices, for me, running gets me in a meditative state.  When I run, sure I can do it for the challenge, the endorphins, or a time to tune-out and listen to my favorite Podcast or an artfully crafted Spotify playlist, but my most rewarding excursions are those when I take the time to mindfully engage with my body via its motion.

In contrast to sitting mindfulness meditations where sensations in the body often arise subtly, a moving body is interacting more with its environment and thus it inevitably receives more input and/or stimulation. Therefore, for many people, movement enables one to more easily be aware of their bodies. This is true for me.

Rather than deny and move away from my discomfort, I use it as a support to my consciousness of what is now. 

The repetitive movement patterns of my gate (its rhythm and pace), my foot strike on the ground, the stack of my shoulders over my hips and engagement of my torso, perhaps the tightness between my ribs as my body begins to crave oxygen for its muscles -- these are just a sampling of physical sensations I begin to attend to as I start my trek into the urban trailhead.

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As I fall into embodiment, I unavoidably notice my mental patterns emerge and my mind begins to jump to the various “to-dos“ or a negative narrative about my sluggish legs which feel as though they’re made of cement. I allow it. I notice it. I kindly (without judgment) bring my awareness back to the present moment. Perhaps my way back in is through the sensation in those legs made of cement: heavy and cumbersome - struggling to lift away from their favorite cousin, asphalt.

Rather than deny and move away from my discomfort, I use it as a support to my consciousness of what is now. There is discomfort but there is not damaging pain. I move my mind closer to it, immerse my consciousness in it, and singularly focus on my legs of cement - so heavy and cumbersome. After several moments, I begin to notice the sensations change -- an energy moving in spirals up and down my thighs. The heaviness subsides and my pace quickens.  

Obviously in a running meditation I cannot withdraw my complete attention from the outside world. I have to maintain awareness of my environment if not for anything else than my safety. Because of this fact, I can also use running as an opportunity to practice externalized mindfulness.  So often runners traverse the same routes over and over and never actually notice their environment because they have turned inwards toward those mental patterns and become lost in thought. For those who identify, try having a gentle curiosity about the world around you. Whatever catches your attention, become interested in it and examine its qualities as fully as you can until the next moment/place/thing draws your interest to it.

However you decide to shift your perspective, whether you find an embodied practice or set an intention to convene with the present moment around you, running (or any other moving mediation) can be a great way to tap into both the physical benefits of movement and the mental and spiritual benefits of a divine meditative practice.


Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.